A Florida school district has taken 1,600 books, including dictionaries and encyclopedias, off its library shelves to ensure they comply with the state's law prohibiting books that describe sexual content.
Libraries in the panhandle's Escambia County School District will no longer carry five dictionaries, eight encyclopedias, some "Guinness World Records" books, various books detailing diseases and more, per PEN America, until the titles are reviewed.
Also on the review list, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project, are biographies of Oprah Winfrey, Thurgood Marshall, Lady Gaga and other public figures, as well as Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl" and two books by conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly — who told Newsweek the current removal of his titles was "absurd" and "preposterous."
Though the books aren't banned as of now, the pulled titles will remain off the shelves until a certified media specialist can review them and determine that they abide by the terms set out in Florida's House Bill 1069.
The legislation, signed by Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, bans schools from carrying books that are "pornographic" or that depict or describe "sexual conduct." It also restricts how teachers can discuss sexual orientation or gender identity, stating "reproductive roles are binary, stable and unchangeable."
After taking effect in July, the bill opened the door for any parent or county resident to submit an objection form regarding any material they wish to be reviewed. That means in theory, any resident could allege a book contained sexual conduct, and it would be pulled off the shelf for review.
A school district spokesperson clarified to multiple outlets that these reviews don't mean the books will automatically be banned, but the review will determine their future based on their compliance with HB 1069.
"Our school district, and especially our dedicated media specialists, remain committed to adhering to all statutes and regulations, while also providing valuable and varied literacy opportunities for every student," Escambia County School District's superintendent told WEAR News.
The state of Florida has led the charge in the country's era of book bans, and Escambia County has become something of a focal point in battles for and against them.
Writers' group PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House and banned authors joined with Escambia County parents and students in a federal lawsuit against the district in May 2023, arguing book removals and restrictions violate free speech and equal protection rights.
Their case centered on the banning of 10 books involving race and LGBTQ+ identities, and argued that HB 1069 could only apply to material in classrooms, not libraries.
On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit could move forward under the First Amendment's free speech protections, but he denied their claims under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
"These books need to be returned to the shelves where they belong, and every day that students are refused access is a day they're not getting the high-quality education they deserve," said Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America's Florida office. "This case cuts to the heart of who we are as a country, and for the sake of our children and the future of our democracy, it's critical that we adhere to the language of the First Amendment and the precedents of our federal courts."
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